How To Recognize The Signs Of An Abusive Relationship

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 28, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship can sometimes be difficult when you are in love. In the early stages of a relationship, it can be easy to overlook certain behaviors and minimize them because you are still getting to know each other. Abuse can also take many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse—and some of the types of abuse may be subtler than others. Abuse can have devastating consequences, so understanding the signs of an abusive relationship can be important. In this article, we’ll explore some of the common possible signs of an abusive relationship to keep in mind, as well as how to seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind.

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Common signs of an abusive relationship

What can abuse look like in a relationship? Included below are some common possible signs of an abusive relationship:

  • Putting you down
  • Excessive jealousy
  • Humiliation and intimidation
  • Threats of violence
  • Blaming you for their behavior
  • Emotional manipulation
  • Breaking your property
  • Threatening to hurt themselves if you leave
  • Ignoring your accomplishments
  • Punishing you for spending time with family and/or friends
  • Behaving in way that lead you to feel uncomfortable or pressured during sex
  • Threatening to leave you if you don't comply with demands
  • Belittling you if you don't comply with requests or demands
  • Being judgmental and controlling

In addition, another sign could be if you feel afraid of your partner, whether because of some of these behaviors listed above or for another reason. 

Exploring some signs of abuse

With this broader list of common signs in mind, now let’s dive into a few specific signs more deeply:

Excessive jealousy

One possible sign of an abusive relationship that is commonly overlooked is extreme jealousy. Jealousy can be very destructive to a relationship. When you are with someone you love, it can be difficult to recognize the abusive nature of jealousy, but love and trust are necessary for a healthy relationship. Excessive jealousy can be manipulative and possessive; it may surface because the person does not trust their partner and wants to have control over them and who they spend time with. Jealous behavior can be destructive to love; it can crush freedom and chip away at self-esteem. Accusations, assumptions, and over-the-top reactions may be used to manipulate and control. 


Intense fighting

Most couples will have disagreements from time to time, but there is a difference between healthy disagreements and fighting. Communication is essential for addressing conflict, but it is typically impossible to communicate effectively during a fight. Fighting is more than disagreeing; intense fighting is aggressive and hurtful. If during a fight, one or both partners say hurtful things, act aggressively, or even use physical violence, this can be a serious sign of abuse. 

Blaming yourself

Abuse in a relationship can take many forms, and one of the reasons it can be difficult to identify the signs of an abusive relationship sometimes is because the survivor may feel responsible for the abuser's behavior. They may blame themselves for their partner’s abusive actions. The abuser may also often blame the one they are abusing; this can be a way to evade responsibility and try to maintain control over their partner. This type of abuse is emotional and mental, and it can be very damaging.

Signs of emotional or mental abuse can include:

  • Fear of saying something that will anger your partner
  • Avoiding family and friends because you feel ashamed
  • Believing that you can never do anything right
  • Feeling responsible for your partner’s anger
  • Believing that you deserve to be mistreated
  • Making excuses for your partner's aggression toward you.

Love should not cause fear, loss of self-esteem, or loss of family and friends. You are never responsible for or deserving of your partner’s abuse. 

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Changes in your emotional well-being

Paying attention to how you feel about yourself can also be a way to recognize an abusive relationship. Changes in how you feel about yourself can happen slowly; so, paying attention to your well-being and noticing how it might be shifting can be useful in recognize emotional and mental abuse. If you are feeling or experiencing any of these feelings, your relationship may be crossing the line to an abusive situation:

  • Feelings of shame or embarrassment
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Feeling powerless to make a change
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Feeling afraid

Help is available

In addition, you can also consider seeking help through online therapy. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for survivors of domestic violence. One study examined the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT) for survivors of intimate partner violence, and it found that the online treatment had “large and statistically significant” effects on several measures of PTSD and depression. 

An abusive relationship can take a heavy toll on a person, and for someone who has experienced abuse, it may feel daunting and exhausting to seek help. With online therapy, you can meet with a licensed therapist virtually from wherever you have internet and feel the most comfortable. 


Abuse can take many forms, and sometimes, it can be hard to recognize the signs. Some of the possible signs of an abusive relationship include excessive jealousy, intense fighting, self-blame, and changes in your emotional well-being. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, know that help is available. You can reach out to the  National Domestic Violence Hotline at any time. For additional support, you can connect with a licensed therapist online for help.

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